Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world's best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city? This week the Herald begins a 10-day series examining some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland's success matters to the rest of the country. In part three of the series we look at education.

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WORLD CLASS AUCKLAND - Part 1: Housing
WORLD CLASS AUCKLAND - Part 2: Environment

Auckland is changing and the education system is changing to meet the needs of Auckland kids, writes Education Minister Hekia Parata.

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One hundred years ago 180,000 children attended school throughout New Zealand.
Today we have 260,000 children attending school in Auckland alone. The numbers, the diversity and the range of options have expanded exponentially.

We have kids attending state schools, integrated faith-based schools, private schools, partnership schools and, kura. In addition, we have kids attending early childhood centres, trades academies, service academies and tertiary high schools.

As Education Minister I have a clear goal. I want every kid to receive a great education. For that to happen every school has to be a great school.

As Auckland parents know there are already many great schools in the Auckland region.
They come in different shapes and sizes, but they share common characteristics. They have highly capable teachers and principals, parents who take a keen interest in their children's education and they are part of communities that have high expectations of kids and the education system. Because of its size, Auckland faces some particular challenges and opportunities. It has a fast growing population and it has a higher than average number of students for whom English is an additional language. It also has an unusually large number of students who travel each day for their schooling.

This Government believes in parental choice. We are not in the business of telling parents where they must send their children to school and we understand that some parents want their kids to attend schools that have a particular character.

However, we will know we have done our job when no parents feel a need to drive their children past the neighbourhood school to secure a high quality education. It is for that reason that I have tasked the Education Ministry to focus on the four things that have been shown by research to make the greatest difference to kids' education. Those things are the quality of teaching, the quality of leadership, parental engagement and community expectations.

Other things such as buildings and facilities are important. That is why the Government has begun delivering on last year's promise to invest an extra $350 million over the next few years in Auckland schools.

We need more schools and more classrooms to cater for Auckland's fast-growing population. We want our schools to be attractive, welcoming places.

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However, my job as Education Minister is not to oversee the Education Ministry's $23 billion property portfolio. It is to ensure teachers and principals have the tools they need to raise student achievement.

It is for these reasons that the Government made the centrepiece of last year's Budget its $359 million Investing in Educational Success policy. The policy is designed to direct taxpayer resources where they will make the greatest difference to kids' education.

There are many great teachers and many great schools in Auckland as there are in other parts of the country. However, it is the nature of our devolved education system that our teachers and schools operate in relative isolation to each other.

The aim of Investing in Educational Success is to enable expertise and resources to be better shared by creating communities of learning that bring together all those with an interest in a child's education.

In Auckland we now have 11 communities of learning with 86 schools in them.
The approach is still in its infancy, but once the new communities have identified the achievement challenges they wish to focus on and appointed key personnel they will be able to begin sharing expertise and accessing additional resources.

The particular challenges identified by individual communities of learning will differ according to need. For some it will be literacy, for others it might be maths or science and, in Auckland, some are likely to identify challenges associated with teaching students for whom English is an additional language.

The decisions are theirs to make. One of the strengths of the policy is that the Government is not telling communities what to do or how they should do it. It is up to them to decide what they wish to focus on and how they wish to make progress.
Education is critical because it not only shapes the future for individuals, it also shapes the future for nations. How well New Zealand is positioned to take care of future generations will depend on how good a job we do of educating this generation.

Auckland has a very good education system. By making the expertise that resides in individual schools more readily available, our goal is to help teachers, principals, parents and communities make it a great education system.